FWC carries on the Public Trust Doctrine
Fish Busters' Bulletin
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
Media contact: Bob Wattendorf
For my 32 years with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission (FWC), I have been one of those folks dealing with the
stigma of "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you."
Fortunately, the FWC has an outstanding public reputation, and
most people who care about nature and are outdoors enjoying our
resources understand that we provide a valuable service. FWC staff
manage fish and wildlife resources for their long-term well-being
and the benefit of people.
Long ago, resource users and everyone who benefited from healthy
fish and wildlife and beautiful natural areas entrusted governments
with the responsibility of protecting and sustaining nature. The
North American Model of Wildlife Conservation describes how
governments pay to ensure safe and sustainable public fishing and
hunting opportunities and to conserve wildlife and their habitats.
That model incorporates the "Public Trust Doctrine."
The Public Trust Doctrine is part of common law, and each state
customizes it to establish public rights in navigable waters and
along shores. This is because people use these common areas for
food, travel and commerce and need to share them.
The doctrine has three core principles. First, fish and wildlife
are public resources. Second, they are managed for the common good.
Third, trained professionals hold them in custodianship and serve
as trustees who are accountable to the public.
In Florida, the state constitution codifies existing common law,
ensuring the state holds title to navigable lakes and streams for
use by the people. The doctrine protects water bodies that were
navigable at the time of statehood.
Building on this, in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt
signed the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act. This act has
been crucial to implementing the North American Model of Wildlife
Conservation. In 1950, sportsmen and businesses teamed with
conservation-minded policymakers to redirect existing federal
excise taxes on fishing tackle to a new Sport Fish Restoration
Program (aka: SFR, Dingell-Johnson or Wallop-Breaux).
The concept was to restore sport fish populations and improve
public access, so more people can enjoy fishing and fishing sales
would increase. Sport Fish Restoration came about because anglers
wanted to see more money directed toward restoring the nation's
recreational fisheries, thus ensuring better fishing opportunities
for themselves and future generations. It has been the best thing
for anglers since mass production of fishing reels.
Today, SFR uses a small excise tax on fishing reels and other
fishing tackle, as well as a motorboat fuel tax, to fund sport-fish
restoration and boating access programs. It is working. There are
now 77 percent more anglers than in 1950. Moreover, purchases of
tax-related items by anglers have increased by nearly 200 percent
in constant dollars since 1955.
Anglers and fishing businesses want to know the benefits they
receive in return. To help answer this, Andrew Loftus Consulting
and Southwick Associates analyzed data on excise taxes invested,
fishing participation, and angler purchases of excise-tax-related
products for a 2011 report to the Association of Fish and Wildlife
Agencies. The report found that excise-tax-related return on
investment ranged from 1,585 percent in 1970 to 2,643 percent in
In Florida, SFR provided $13 million in 2010, of which 15
percent went to boating access. Freshwater fisheries conservation
received $5.5 million, and the rest went to saltwater fisheries. In
fresh water, the FWC uses this money to improve fisheries habitat,
stock fish, conduct research and manage fish populations. The FWC
also conducts aquatic education programs and provides fishing and
conservation information to anglers.
The bottom line is that the Public Trust Doctrine, the North
American Model of Wildlife Conservation, your fishing license fees
and Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration work hand-in-hand with
anglers and other folks who are concerned about our natural
resources to ensure safe and sustainable use for everyone.
For me, that makes it much easier to say, "I'm from the
government, and I'm here to help."